EMPIRE ESSAY: Wayne's World Review

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Two slacker friends try to promote their public-access cable show.


A cheaply-made, largely plot-free TV spin-off about a pair of heavy metal-obsessed teenagers, it is perhaps not surprising that Wayne's World was given something of a cool reception by American film critics when it appeared in 1992. What may
puzzle future filmologists, however, is the bizarre way in which said critical community gave their verdict. The Toronto Star, for example, suggested that the Michael Myers/Dana Carvey vehicle was, "A good idea for a movie — not." In a similar vein, the Star Tribune's scribe described the film as "A surefire Oscar-winner and destined to become a Hollywood classic — not!" Finally, The Village Voice brusquely stated: "Not!" Indeed, for a good six months it was simply impossible to escape the pair's "not!" catchphrase — or, as The New York Times' William Safire described it in his On Language column, "the reversing addendum, or pseudo-Gaelic negative. Example: 'I believe you —NOT!'"

Even leaving the planet provided no respite. "Out in space a while back they were repairing a satellite," Myers recalled shortly after the film's release. "And one of the astronauts said, 'Houston, I'm really enjoying myself—not!' I'm thinking, that's in space, that's not right! But the really surreal thing was when (then US President) George Bush said it. 'Not' was something my brother used to say to torment me. And suddenly Bush is saying it to torment the free world."

Yet, despite the one-time popularity of this particular "reversing addendum" (not to mention other catchphrases such as "Schwing!", "Party on" and — who could forget — "I think I've blown chunks") Wayne's World was a much, much sharper film than its critics would have their readers believe. Indeed, while its characters' hearts may belong to such rockers as Alice Cooper — who makes a hilarious cameo — its script owes far more to the anarchic tradition of British comedy.

"My parents are from Liverpool and moved to Canada in 1956," says Myers. "All my comic influences are from over there. People like Peter Sellers, Alec Guinness, Python, The Goodies, Rutland Weekend Television, That Was The Week That Was. We got a lot of British programmes in Canada and my father would really encourage us to watch that stuff with him. Then I moved over there for a while in 84 so I could be near all that. I saw some of the funniest acts I had ever seen before: Paul Merton, Alexei Sayle and, most particularly, a man who used to carve 27 different animals out of a block of ice. A man who I have never seen since."

Together with his comedy partner Neil Mullarkey, the Canadian even appeared on the Wide Awake Club alongside Timmy Mallett. Myers' big break, however, came when he returned to America and was asked to join Saturday Night Live where together with Carvey he set about developing the characters of Wayne and Garth — two hapless small-town rock fans who broadcast a weekly cable access show.

"Wayne was based on me," recalled Myers. "I was into heavy metal and Ted Nugent, Zeppelin and Aerosmith. What you see onscreen is just what I was doing years ago. Hiking my underwear up the crack of my ass, rolling my stomach, all that intellectual stuff that came from being in the kitchen at parties impressing the girls. And wanna know something that'll surprise you Pit worked."
But, when it came time to transplant the sketch to the big screen, Myers not only beefed up the cast to include Cooper, fellow SNL alumni Chris Farley and Rob Lowe — the latter in a career-reviving role as the evil TV executive who first buys up Wayne's show and then attempts to woo the babe-of-his-dreams Tia Carrere — but also increased its more surreal aspects, particularly during the concluding scenes where audiences are treated to a number of endings including "sad", "happy" and "Scooby Doo." In fact, just as the Pythons did before, Myers delighted in reminding audiences that they were watching a film as he messed around with subtitles or wrote a ludicrously expositional speech for Chris Farley's roadie character. The result was hugely popular — raking in over $11 Om at the American box office despite a meagre $14m budget—and established a template that Myers would go on to refine with both its sequel and the Austin Powers movies.

Finally, it also showed that, despite being almost 30 when he made the movie, Myers' acting powers are such that he could convincingly portray a character ten years younger. Not.

A classic of its kind.